Behind the mask: San Diego die-hard fan ‘Padre Libre’ spreads joy at Petco Park

Neighborhood All-Stars

SAN DIEGO — A San Diego native and lifelong fan of the city’s baseball team, Padre Libre is very popular among Padres fans at Petco Park.

Mercury Hornbeek, also known as Padre Libre, didn’t start embracing his alter ego until a number of years ago. 

“I’m a San Diego fan, I’m from this city,” he said. “If we don’t cheer for our city, who will?”

Hornbeek decided to go all out on his alter ego beginning in 2016. It’s a name fans in the stands called the season ticket holder one day, and then, it just stuck.

Constantly smiling and never saying no to taking a photo, the positivity oozes out of Padre Libre. And yet, you would never know he went through one of the hardest years of his life, losing both his best friend and sister. It hit him hard, and ultimately, forced him to take a year-long trip to Montana to clear his mind. 

“I just knew I couldn’t do Padre Libre how I do it and how people relate with me,” Hornbeek said.

Despite not feeling himself, his love for the Padres never left. He made the trip from Montana to California to catch games whenever he could. When he wasn’t able to, he’d simply give his tickets away.

“I do what I always do, I do a raffle, a questionnaire on the internet,” Hornbeek said. “I do a simple question and whoever answers it first, they get my ticket.”

The 43-year-old says he didn’t grow up this way and has searched for balance from his past to now.

“I’ve found little things, I’ve mentored kids, I’ve done a lot,” Hornbeek said. “But this gives me a total balance now and a peace here in my home, San Diego.”

A diehard Padres fan who has gone through the ringer continues to spread love and joy around the city.

“I’m just here for everybody,” Padre Libre said. “I do Padre Libre, and no matter what I go through and whatever you guys see, it’s for San Diego. I do this for all of us.”

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